The US Department of Agriculture estimates that millions of people in the United States are at risk of going hungry. Recent research suggests a potential solution: adopting a vegan diet. Turning to a vegan diet might solve other problems too.

According to study author Ron Milo, a systems biology and sustainability researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, if farmers used land currently devoted to raising cattle, pigs and chickens to grow plants instead, more than twice the number of people in the US could be sustained than are now.

Looking at data concerning agricultural production and population from 2000 through 2010, researchers used computers to determine the impact of changing the American diet to "nutritionally comparable" plant-based foods, grown on the smallest amount of land possible, by removing animal-based foods such as pork, chicken, dairy, eggs and beef.

The research team believes that an area of land capable of producing 100 grams of edible protein from plants used instead to produce eggs would yield only 60 grams of edible protein: an "opportunity food loss" of 40 percent.

While there are drawbacks to a vegan diet -- for instance a decline in vitamin B12 and other micronutrients -- researchers believe that there would be significant advantages in terms of improved health and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

To read the study, go to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

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